Flu season has officially arrived in Tennessee, with cases of seasonal influenza now categorized as widespread across the state.
The Tennessee Department of Health is urging all residents who have not yet received a flu vaccine to get one now to help protect vulnerable people around them, their families and themselves from the flu virus.
“This is the earliest start to an ordinary flu season in Tennessee since 2003, with seasonal flu now spreading in communities across our state,” said Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner for the Health Department. “People who are still unvaccinated are at increased risk of getting sick and spreading the virus to others. It’s very important for people who are not yet vaccinated to do so now.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that the vaccine is a good match for the flu strains currently circulating in the United States.
CDC officials caution that the most common strain of influenza now circulating tends to cause more severe cases of illness, particularly among the elderly. Seasonal flu activity is now highest in the southeastern and south central U.S., including Tennessee.
Health officials recommend annual flu vaccination for everyone older than 6 months old.
“With the earlier start of flu activity in Tennessee, we can expect to see significant influenza activity through January or February, and it is capable of lingering as late as May,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “It’s not too late to benefit from vaccine. But, it takes one or two weeks after being vaccinated for you to be protected, so if you haven’t yet gotten a vaccine, don’t wait.”
Flu vaccine for people of all ages is widely available throughout Tennessee from primary health care providers, walk-in clinics, pharmacies and county health departments.
Children covered by TennCare or those without insurance can get it for just a small administration fee at local facilities through the Vaccines for Children program.
The flu vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for serious illness or death from influenza such as the elderly, pregnant women and young children, as well as health care workers and family and friends of anyone at high risk.
Expectant mothers should be vaccinated during pregnancy to protect themselves and pass protection on to their unborn babies, according to officials with the Health Department.
Officials said the vaccine is the best defense against the flu, but some people who are vaccinated will become ill anyway.
For this reason, it’s also important to practice good health habits, such as frequent hand washing with soapy water and covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.
People who are sick should stay home to recover if at all possible to prevent spreading illness to coworkers and others. If someone at high risk of serious illness gets sick with the flu, it is important to contact their health care provider to see if antiviral medication or other treatment is recommended to prevent complications.
For more information on flu vaccine, including a tool to find vaccine providers, visit the Health Department website at http://health.state.tn.us/FluClinic/Default.aspx.
To earn more about fighting the flu, go to www.cdc.gov/features/fighttheflu/.